I MEET AN ADEPT 267
I continued up the valley towards the farther end where the opened tombs lay, and where both sides of the ravine had been pitted and perforated with openings for graves, a task not too easy, for each opening had had to be hewn into solid rock. My donkey put its hooves down stiffly as we wound along the dry ravine, for fallen boulders, rough stones, loose quartz and flints littered the narrowing track, and made riding more difficult. Here and there upon the towering sides was a blackened, burnt-up summit. Piles of scintillating stones and chalky chips glared blindingly in the intensely white sunlight. The heat lay heavily over everything like an inescapable log, and visibly palpitated in the air. Not an inch of shade was available and one seemed to be heading into an enormous furnace. My lips were parched, my tongue was dry. The scene was unutterably desolate and yet there was a certain grandeur about its dreariness.
Not a sound broke the silence, not a bird lifted its song to the heat-burdened desert air; not one green plant reared itself out of the solitudes of stone and sand.
The gaunt hills culminated in a single square-shaped peak whose sloping sides were debris-covered, but even before we reached it the tombs revealed themselves. Here men had dug into the ancient hills, so storied with buried mummies and their treasures, and brought to light those things which had been put away with such care
The sides of the Valley were simply honeycombed with slanting tunnels that Jed into the sepulchral chambers, forming a subterranean city of the dead. To descend the flight of rock-cut steps and then enter into the gloomy sloping corridor of one of these tombs was to descend into the nether world. I flashed a beam of torchlight upon the walls. They were covered with a thin stucco that was vividly painted from floor to roof with writhing serpents, royal portraits and priestly figures raising suppliant hands to their deities, sacred barques and guardian spirits, human-headed crocodiles and funerary offerings, scarab-beetles and symbolical bats, all arranged in a series of successive scenes depicting the occupations of the deceased man and his journey in the underworld. Closely set columns of hieroglyphs were also inscribed upon the walls, their object being to assist